Today, Chicago elected a Black woman as Mayor of Chicago.
I sort of can’t believe it.
I was a kid when Harold Washington won in 1983. I remember the racial tensions of this city. I remember that entire campaign. When Harold announced, I don’t know if people thought he would win, but, they were excited about it. I remember watching the debates, and Harold was so eloquent, and he would talk circles around the other two.
Election day came and went, and there was Harold..he actually WON.
He won the most votes, even though it wasn’t the majority of the votes, and became the Democratic Nominee.
Folks were stunned…STUNNED, I tell you.
Being the Democratic Nominee meant that you became the Mayor, after all, this was Chicago.
But, then again, a Black man had WON, so all previous rules didn’t matter.
All of a sudden, we actually knew the name of the Republican Candidate for Mayor – Bernie Epton.
It was the first time where, as a child, I understood the racism of the world in which I inhabited.
You had lifelong Party Democrats, come up for the Republican.
I remember the one ad above all others during that time…
“ Bernie Epton…..BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.”
Yeah, ‘BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE’.
That April 1983 Election Day came, and Black Chicago was overjoyed. There was a buzz in the air. Everybody was out at those Polling Places. Nobody was going to miss this election.
In the end, with an 82% turnout, Harold Washington won by 48,000 votes out of over 1.2 million cast.
It was a rough next 4 years, and Harold had another hard fought election, but, he won again.
When he died six months after re-election, our hearts were broken.
I guess I was young and naïve because I just assumed that we would have another Black person elected Mayor in Chicago. I didn’t think that it would take 35 years.
But, here we are, at this moment.
Not only will we get a Black Mayor, but we’ll get a Black WOMAN Mayor.
We came to this point because of Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to run for re-election. He was run away because, he never got past the revelation of him hiding the Laquan McDonald murder from the public for over a year. When that came out, not a month after the election, it loomed over everything. There are tipping points, and the thing about tipping points, is that you don’t know what they will be. You can only see it in hindsight. I mean, we are the city that has paid out over a HALF BILLION DOLLARS in the past 5 years in lawsuits about police misconduct. In theory, McDonald’s murder was just one of many that resulted in a payout. But, something changed. Something about this case hit an exposed nerve that rolled over pretty much everyone involved – from the Police Chief, to the States Attorney, and finally Rahm.
In the meantime, things evolve, and suddenly, the Party Boss of Cook County winds up being a Black woman – Toni Preckwinkle. Her tenure as Cook County Board President has been tumultuous. She has made a few notable missteps in the job, both taxes that upset the general population. But, after Rahm’s announcement about not running for re-election, many believed that Preckwinkle was the person to beat. That, if she didn’t outright win it, it was no doubt that she would wind up in the top two for the runoff. (The law was changed after Harold died – no more plurality for the win ; now you have to get 50%+1 to be the victor….uh huh uh huh…how they change the rules once someone Black wins by them).
Preckwinkle made some errors along the way. They were completely unforced errors, but, because she did, her aura of invincibility began to crack.
Along the way, there were so many candidates. In the end, we had 12 candidates for the primary. A number of them were well known entities that have been around, doing various jobs in city, state and federal government. There were a couple of candidates that took the mantle of ‘ outsider’, but, Lori Lightfoot became the vessel for progressives who wanted ‘ change’.
Ms. Lightfoot, an attorney, was supported by the progressive community from the North Side, as well as the LGBTQ community. She wasn’t on television much. She was seventh when it came to fundraising, but she always lurked beneath the surface, while the other more well-known candidates were battling with one another and knocking each other out in the media, she was steadily climbing, and building her organization.
The pundits thought that the final two would be Preckwinkle and Bill Daley. I know that when Election Night came, that’s who I thought it was going to be. I turned on the television, and saw, with just 25% of the returns, that Lightfoot was leading. I was stunned, and just kept on watching to see how this would play out. She led from beginning to end. She was the top vote-getter, with just under 20% of the vote.
Preckwinkle was in second place, and Bill Daley was in third. But, only the top TWO got to move on.
Folks were like me – in shock.
The next Mayor of Chicago was going to be a Black woman. Period.
How’d THAT happen..LOL
The thing is…neither one of the two finalists won Black Chicago. They were put into place by votes outside of the traditional Black community. Neither one of the women live in the traditional wards that compose the Black wards in Chicago. Ms. Lightfoot lives on the North Side and Ms. Preckwinkle lives in Hyde Park – South Side, but not ‘South Side’, if you know what I mean. They have had to reach out to communities all across the city in their quest to become the victor tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea, and I’m going to be tuned into the television to see what happens.
I was listening to a radio program on the local Black talk radio station, and one of the hosts was like, ‘ we haven’t even been able to enjoy this time’. I think that’s right. Maybe, as a constituency, we’ve grown, and needed more than ‘just being Black’ to excite us. Maybe it’s because we’re putting on them a Black Tax that other candidates wouldn’t have to go through. Ms. Lightfoot’s sexual orientation hasn’t become a talking point, or a reason to not vote for her. Both women are inter-racially married, so that can’t be a talking point of why we should doubt their ‘ Blackness’.
We’re comparing their records on the Police Department and who has been more critical of them when it comes to their treatment of the Black community. Whether or not they are committed to using tax monies for investment in non-thriving Wards, which would be a complete change from the Daley and Emmanuel eras. Maybe we have gotten more sophisticated in our expectations and demands of candidates.
But, it’s good to live in history, and history was made tonight.
A Black Woman will occupy the 5th Floor of City Hall.
She will be the first non-native born Chicagoan to become Mayor since 1931! Man we ARE a provincial town.😊
Congratulations, Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot.